COVID-19 has brought us on an emotional rollercoaster ride as we navigate the changes to the way we live our lives. According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic has triggered a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. In the early days of the pandemic, many feared catching the virus and fretted over the related uncertainties.
Two years on, as the vaccination rates increase all around the world, restrictions have started to ease. While we rejoice over being able to gather with family and friends, another set of anxiety has started to creep in for some — financial anxiety. Due to the impact of Covid-19 on global supply-chains and recent geopolitical tensions, inflation has been steadily rising over the past months. Not only does it take a toll on a person’s wallet, it can also take a toll on a person’s mental health.
We speak with Dr Michelle Cheung, Senior Physician and General Practitioner of Raffles Medical Group, to understand more about anxiety and the impact it can bring to a person’s life.
What is anxiety?
Dr Cheung: Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. Having occasional anxiety is normal and the right amount of it can be beneficial as it focuses our attention, and motivates us to do better. However, if the feeling of worry or fear becomes severe, excessive and persistent, it may reflect a bigger underlying condition known as an anxiety disorder. The DSM-5 criterion by the American Psychiatric Association defines persistent and prolonged anxiety disorder as occurring on most days of the week for at least 6 months. (DSM-5 is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.)
How relevant is financial anxiety in today’s context?
Dr Cheung: Financial anxiety is defined as an obsessive fear of things that are related to monetary factors. Basically, the person is scared of anything that has to do with money.
Rising healthcare cost has been one of the top concerns for Singaporeans, with Singapore’s medical inflation rate hitting about 10% per year for the past few years. To add on to that worry, overall inflation is surging and is quickly emerging as a key challenge this year. Most of us would have felt the effects of the increase in our daily cost of living, due to price hikes for things such as utilities, food, and transport. Some individuals might also experience their income being adversely affected by the pandemic.
With all the stressors resulting from the rising cost of living and impending GST increase, it has definitely added some degree of worry and anxiety to the people living here.
How do you identify someone who has anxiety?
Dr Cheung: Some degree of anxiety is normal, and part and parcel of our daily lives. Common features one could experience include heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, dizziness and rapid breathing.
However, this becomes a concern if it starts to disrupt our daily functions. Medically, a person is diagnosed to have an anxiety disorder if he or she experiences excessive symptoms of anxiety and worry on most days of the week for at least 6 months, and they find it difficult to control the worry.
The accompanying symptoms are typically three or more of the following symptoms:
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
How does anxiety impact a person’s life?
Dr Cheung: Anxiety can be very debilitating especially if it happens very frequently and if it is protracted. It can have a negative impact on our physical health, quality of life and daily functioning because you may experience symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, or an inability to focus — this is serious when you are driving or even making an important business decision.
When should a person seek medical help for anxiety?
Dr Cheung: If you feel you are worrying excessively such that it interferes with your work, relationships or other aspects of your life, and find it difficult to control your fear or worry, it is advisable to seek medical help from a doctor or psychiatrist. The doctor will assess your condition, and may recommend medications and therapy if needed.
If you notice any family members, friends or colleagues who might be experiencing such symptoms, you can provide emotional support for them, lend them a listening ear, and encourage them to seek medical help.
Tips to Prevent and Cope with Financial Anxiety
Prices are rising but your anxiety level does not have to follow suit. To learn more tips on preventing and coping with financial anxiety, you may watch our webinar, jointly organised with Endowus and Calm Collective here.
Do not hesitate to reach out if you need someone to talk to:
- SOS (Samaritans of Singapore): 1800 221 4444
- Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: +65 6389 2222
- TOUCHline: 1800 377 2252
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